NEW DELHI: Our politicians have a terrible habit of shooting their mouth off first and regretting it later.

The current storm over beef is partly of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s making. It was he who had coined the term “Pink Revolution” in the run up to the last general elections implying that the UPA government of a Christian Sonia Gandhi was deliberately encouraging the villainous Muslims to slaughter the revered Gaumata and export beef.

Never mind that beef export in last one year of Modi rule registered highest growth. How can he now turn around and question the likes of Sanjay Rana, Sangeet Som, Sanjeev Baliyan, Sakshi Maharaj or Mahesh Sharma who are all out on the Gau Raksha mission.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad, doing so well in the current Bihar poll campaign, from all off the record accounts too has gone and shot himself in the foot . He first made bold to declare that Hindus too eat beef and then after the BJP decided to pin him down, fearing a communal Hindu backlash he hurriedly backtracked and a contrite Lalu Yadav surrendered to his detractors, Giriraj Singh, Sushil Modi et al saying, “Mere munh se shaitan ne beef wali baat bulwai thhi (Devil made me say that thing about beef)”. And he is under the mistaken impression that the BJP and its supporters will forgive him for that. It requires the guts and courage of a maverick like Markandey Katju, the son of Shivnath Katju (former president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), not just to announce that he eats beef but to dismiss his detractors as illiterates and ignorant on a prominent TV channel. But Katju is no politician so he could afford to get away with it. Lalu Yadav clearly felt he needed to be a little more cautious, no doubt.

It is however common knowledge that there is no dearth of Hindus who eat beef and in any case there is and never has been any prohibition on eating buffalo beef. So what is this hullabaloo all about? The people of entire North East India eat beef and by beef I mean the Gori Gau and not the Kaali Bhains. There is an obvious Aryan racial sub-text to this also for in effect what is the difference between a cow and a buffalo, except the colour of their skin? In fact buffaloes are more healthy, give more creamy and larger quantity of milk. There is no visible distinction between their dung and urine as well.

The issue is do Hindus eat beef? Lalu Yadav should have turned around and sought the views of his one time comrade and fellow social justice traveller Ram Vilas Paswan and also of that latest champion of the Mahadalits, Jitan Ram Manjhi on the blanket ban on beef consumption. I don’t know about Manjhi but Paswan surely can’t deny having ever consumed beef. Manjhi is in fact a Musahar who were condemned by the upper caste in Bihar to a worse state, to catch and eat mice.

Who was the first one to react to the decision of Maharashtra and Haryana government to ban and penalise the sale, possession and consumption of beef? Our Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju. Why? Because he is from Arunachal Pradesh and all the people of North East, Hindus, Christians, tribals all not only eat beef but have regular cattle sacrificing rituals in their temples. Not many people perhaps know that the most relished delicacy in Arunachal Pradesh is Monkey meat.

Why did the Shiv Sena of Udhav Thackeray and rival Navnirman Sena of cousin Raj Thackeray take umbrage to ban on meat consumption last month? Because most OBCs eat beef. Beef is cheaper than Dal, Onion and vegetables these days and is therefore an affordable source of their subsistence. Add to that the Dalits and the tribals too. I have stated earlier too how during the entire Shiv Sena-BJP rule from 1994-99 beef was sold openly from Government owned MAFCO outlets all over Maharashtra.

With the exception of some Tamil Brahmins ,almost all the other castes in Tamil Nadu eat beef. In fact one of the cardinal principles of Periyar was to press upon those joining his movement to shun vegetarianism.

Kathi rolls a legacy of Kolkata are essentially beef rolls in Kolkata and the business does not thrive on Muslim clients alone.

The first time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in in 1996 for 13 days and sought a vote of confidence, former Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha G G Swell rose in Parliament and spoke that while he was a big admirer of Vajpayee and would have gladly voted for him he won’t because the BJP may impose a ban on beef consumption, a staple diet in the Hills of North East.

His support for Vajpayee was perhaps also inspired by, among other things , Vapayee’s well- known love for Jama Masjid Nihari in Delhi’s bitter Winter and that is hooves of cattle cooked over simmering heat overnight. J P Mathur himself a non-vegetarian, used to relate to his large following of journalists fan club how L K Advani too was originally a non vegetarian and their camraderie and bonhomie developed because both loved going to Jama Masjid area to relish the seekh kababs there. Now it is common knowledge that those road side kababs though fabulously delicious, are all made of beef.

Then there are those in Modi’s cabinet who eat beef only when they go out of the country. Can we recall how many BJP leaders went round Anarkali Bazar in Lahore when they went on a diplomatic mission to Pakistan? What did they eat there? Vegetables! Where did they get these? My friend Photo Editor Praveen Jain could not even eat Dal there because even in Dal there were chicken pieces.

By the way beef consumption has to do less with religion than with class. For instance at least in North India and what now comprises Pakistan, beef is hardly consumed by the upper class Muslims. I was in Pakistan in 1991 for 12 days and not once either at any home or at a hotel, restaurant I saw a beef dish and finally I had to ask whether beef is banned in Pakistan.

So instead of feeling contrite Lalu should have turned around and exposed the hypocritical Sanghis. But for that you require the steely courage of a Kancha Ilaiah or my young friends from Delhi University Gaurav Jain and his class and university fellows who unsuccessfully organized a “Beefy picnic” outside BJP headquarters, 11, Ashoka Road and were detained and roughed up by the Delhi Police.

(Faraz Ahmad is a senior journalist)